1. Austyn Carta-Samuels seems to have a lot riding on his shoulders this season. How do you think he'll perform? What style of quarterback is he? When is he at his best? What are his weaknesses?
Austyn Carta-Samuels has earned high praise in practice, and he's looked good in the team's scrimmages. That isn't much of a surprise given his history. The 2009 Mountain West Freshman of the Year (with Wyoming) is in his fifth year as a Division I quarterback. He's a solid leader with a stronger arm than Jordan Rodgers had before him, and he's also got the mobility to extend plays - though he's not as elusive as Rodgers had been.
He's comfortable in the pocket, and an offensive line stocked with returning talent should give him a good cushion there. He's solid in many areas of the passing game, but he doesn't excel in any one specific place. He may need time to adjust to the speed of the SEC game after playing for Wyoming and starting just one game last season (against Presbyterian). The spotlight shouldn't shake him, but there may be a bit of a learning curve in play for ACS on Thursday.
2. Vanderbilt is starting a lot of upperclassmen. That's at least a little bit surprising considering how well Franklin has recruited over the past two seasons. Do you think that's more of a statement of the veteran talent, poor evaluations, or something else? As a follow-up, is Franklin continuing to redshirt a lot of players or going with a play-em-all strategy?
Vanderbilt's veteran-heavy lineup is more a testament to Bobby Johnson's ability to recruit unheralded players that can contribute to a high-level football team than anything else. Some of Franklin's guys are beginning to emerge, but it's important to note that the oldest players that he's recruited are only in their third year this season - and most of these elder statesmen are redshirt sophomores. They'll get more of a chance than ever to contribute in '13, but look at some of the players in front of them. Vandy had more players named to various preseason All-SEC teams this summer than in any year I can remember. Veterans like Jordan Matthews, Wesley Johnson, Chase Garnham, and Andre Hal have proven that they can start anywhere in the SEC. That's made it pretty difficult for Franklin's touted recruits to break through - but they'll begin to start phasing in to more on-field packages this fall.
In terms of redshirting, Franklin keeps his cards very close to his vest and rarely announces if a player will be redshirting. However, he's typically only brought 3-4 true freshman onto the field in each of his past two seasons at Vanderbilt. Guys to look out for this season include ESPN 150 wideout Jordan Cunningham and four-star CB Ryan White.
3. Name an offensive player who we may not have heard of that we might want to beat up when the game is over. Defensive?
Tailback Brian Kimbrow was, at one point, the highest rated recruit that Vanderbilt had ever brought to Nashville. As a true freshman, he had three touchdown runs of 33 yards or more, and he might be the fastest player in the SEC. He'll try to replace record-setter Zac Stacy in the Vandy backfield this season (along with Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate), and he could be the most likely candidate for the Ole Miss Hate List.
On defense, Caleb Azubike (A-ZOO-BEE-KAY) developed into a pass-rushing threat at DE throughout his freshman season. Azubike brings tremendous speed and strength to the edge, and he's adjusting to the college game with aplomb. If he's on target, he could make things very uncomfortable for Bo Wallace this week.
4. In the past, Vanderbilt has kind of settled in recruiting. The team still isn't compiling incredible classes, but there's a noticeable improvement there. What do you think accounts for that? Franklin or something else?
Franklin is obviously the catalyst, but Bobby Johnson (and Robbie Caldwell) helped set him up for success by turning a two-star destination into a program that could regularly bring high three-star players to campus. Now, Franklin has dialed up the intensity and challenged recruits to start a winning tradition in Nashville while receiving a top-notch education. His enthusiasm and connection with the players has converted Vandy from a top 75 recruiting program into a top 25 destination. That's huge - huge! - and it's something that we've never seen at Vanderbilt before.
5. What's your prediction for the game? Give a score and how it gets there.
Both teams have stout defenses, and those tend to reign in early season games. Last season, Vandy and South Carolina seemed primed for a shootout, but fell victim to sloppy and unrefined play in a 17-13 game. I can see Thursday's matchup going the same way. I.e.: mistakes are made, turnovers are capitalized on, and Vanderbilt gains 2.3 yards per carry as Franklin and his crew frantically tinker with the playbook.
Still, I think the tools are there for this offense to work things out. Carta-Samuels will find his groove, Jordan Matthews will do Jordan Matthews things to keep ACS afloat, and the best offensive line this team's had in years will do enough to sustain drives. In the end, it comes down to Carey Spear, who will narrowly notch more field goals than blowout tackles.
Vanderbilt 16, Ole Miss 14.